Kalapati (Ruben Brillantes, 1970) May 12, 2010Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Noypi.
Written and directed by Ruben Brillantes
Cast: Romeo Rocco, Paloma Miranda, Paul Laing
Kalapati ‘s reputation has always been tainted by a run of bad luck. Its heap of production problems, particularly the much-publicized fight on the set between Romeo Rocco and Carmen Reyes—once billed as the 60s’ Rogelio dela Rosa and Carmen Rosales—was the first sign. Reyes left the production in April, six months before the scheduled release of the film. Almost two-thirds of the script were already filmed, and Nelly Sales of Camiling Productions had to find a replacement after Reyes fled to the States before the complaint was filed against her. A year later, Rocco and Reyes’ marriage was annulled.
The second sign was the replacement: Paloma Miranda. The fans of the Rocco-Reyes love team were stunned after hearing the news of the breakup. Six months weren’t long enough for them to accept that Rocco was being paired with another woman—a woman who, to their utter disbelief, just came out of nowhere; a woman who had nothing yet to prove to deserve such pairing. For the conservative public, the exposé on Miranda’s stripteasing work before her show business career was unacceptable. Consistently denied during Kalapati’s release, Miranda admitted her taxi dancing job as part of the promotion of her next film, Pagdating sa Ulo, with her real-life partner Pinggoy Morales. Kalapati only managed a week in the box-office—the theater owners even insisted on running it as a two-bill feature along with Arthur Hilller’s Love Story on its third day, but to little avail. Kalapati had to fight the ticket sales of Bukaka sa Bukid, Swapang sa Karne, Sugapa sa Butas, and Ginapang Ka Sa Lusak. It turned out that Rocco’s presence in the film wasn’t enough to urge the fans to flock to the theaters. And to add insult to injury, the movie scribes were not supportive at all.
One critic describes Kalapati as “a movie that struggles to find an audience, a movie that struggles to marry its Godardian style with the ineptness of its plot, and a movie that struggles for comprehension—in short, a movie that struggles.” True to its word, Kalapati defines struggle. It is Brillantes’ final work, and unfortunately, the curtains fell with mystery rather than appreciation. When his wife, former Ms. Universe titlist Teresa Robles, died, he tried to go back to filmmaking. He came to producers to fund his scripts but after Kalapati no one showed interest to work with him anymore, knowing they would lose money. Brillantes is also known for his temper—the famous exploit being his shouting at actors and crew who insist on calling him “Direk” instead of “Direktor”—but looking at his body of works, it is hard to dismiss that from his cranky character lies his brilliance, hence his last name. With three features under his belt, not to mention a couple of unfinished documentaries on the nationwide transport strike and the epic Luis Taruc project (whose interviews were said to require twenty tapes), Brillantes needs a long-deserved retrospective. The recent discovery of Kalapati’s print in the demolished Camiling Productions should give it a headstart.
You could imagine the surprise on people’s faces after watching Kalapati in 1970. It stood out, apparently, as it didn’t get any favorable regard from both the media and the moviegoing public. The critics had credited the constant borrowing and mix of styles to the filmmaker’s mistaken notion that they could work in the Filipino setting—the Filipino sensibility in particular. From the disciplined framing of Ozu to the jump-cuts of Godard and the dream sequences of Fellini, it is impossible not to see what Brillantes is trying to do. He is playing with these foreign filmmakers’ styles, carefully throwing them into the story, juggling them at such pace that his star-crossed lovers fade into the background. Hence what we get in the end is far from tangible. We cannot hold on to them or prove they exist; we just have to believe the impossibility.
Here’s the plot: Delfin and Rosa exchange messages through a bird. He is a student in the University; she is a quality checker in the pencil factory. The bird perches on the window of the library where Delfin is seen studying; it lands on Rosa’s desk every afternoon, before she goes home from work. They meet—only in their dreams, and in flashbacks that do not really happen. They kiss—only in the bird’s point of view, which is doubtful because it cannot happen based on the chronology of events that leads to the ending. And they die—only because they both wanted to meet. Those three happen in repetition, over and over, like an alarm clock that won’t go off. To call it puzzling is an understatement. And besides, the beautiful photography makes it all feel like an ocular exercise.
The “greater realism” that Brillantes was advocating reaches its peak here. “Greater” may be right, but the “realism” differs from the Italian neorealism or the kitchen sink drama of the British New Wave that is quite popular in the 60s. It is a specific brand of realism that is difficult to label—simply because there isn’t any term that will suffice. It may be called “artificial realism”, but it would take a whole new essay to explain why. Suffice it to say, the audiences then were not prepared with the “greater realism” that Brillantes was trying to achieve, and that realism died along with this film. It never continued as it is, but just a quick look at Brocka’s early films is enough to say that it has influenced the director albeit unconsciously. Unfortunately, because of Brillantes’ untimely death and the late appreciation of his works, his influence only managed to touch a few. With that, Kalapati feels more like a swan song—a final act of an artist at the height of his longing to be accepted in the film community, which, upon reflection now, was rightfully and awfully deserved.
*Published in UNO, April 2010